Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Contrapular Spectacular! Steampunk contraptions at Waltz on the Wye

WARNING: LONG POST AHEAD

Now you've had your warning I make no apologies for this long, picture-heavy post. One of the very best things about steampunk, in my opinion, is the creativity that forms a massive part of it. It goes further than making clothes and accessories, although these are important. However, to see the creativity at its peak, you need to look at the contraptions. For Waltz on the Wye, the Contraptions Exhibition was held at Chepstow Castle, with the permission of Welsh Heritage body Cadw.

(If I've spelled anyone's name wrong or something factual ne
eds correcting, please let me know - I've tried to attribute the contraptions to the correct people.)

This pipe and these lenses were both made by Matt McCall. They're superlative examples of some of the things you will see steampunks wearing, carrying and even using. The pipe has been completely reconstructed and yes, it works. Mr Robot, being a man who enjoys a pipe, asked.

I'm really glad we've got close-up photos of these because they show the intricate detail and hard work that goes into contraption making. It's not just gluing cogs on ordinary things! The ones that work, work, and the ones that don't usually have a narrative behind them that places them within the realm of Victorian science fiction.

A very nice gentleman whose name I can't remember (EDIT: it is Arfon Jones) brought along a three-part contraption. As an explorer, you may find yourself on the Lost World at some point, so he had one gunlike device for freezing dinosaurs, one for shrinking them to manageable size and this splendid cryogenic case for transporting them back to the lab. It even smoked! I gave the 'ice' a gentle poke and it's wonderfully realistic resin. I wasn't sure because the noise of the smoky element made me wonder if there was some sort of refrigeration going on there.

Andy, one of the event's two organisers, brought several items along. The fantastic thing about many of his contraptions isn't just that they look fantastic, it's that they work. The puffer fish lamp was quite strange, and the clock is a work of art.

The case is based on Arts and Crafts styles, but the numbers are done using special tubes. Being a technospud, I can't think what the tubes are called, but if you look at them up close, they're like tiny lightbulbs. Each contains wire coils shaped not like a lightbulb filament but as the numbers 0 to 9. Electricity runs through one coil in each tube, making it glow. When the time changes, one filament goes dark and the next one lights up.

The Eyes The Eyes! was Mr Robot's favourite item. Made by Jarkman and Ben, it's deceptively simple looking, and has already been on show at Bristol's Arnolfini Gallery. It's an eye with brass eyelids. However, it will track you round a room, blink, look sleepy… Mr Robot said he felt is was the most sinister and steampunk thing he saw all weekend. I was quite charmed, because it made me think of the film Labyrinth and anything that recalls Bowie in tight trousers as the Goblin King can't be all bad...

Visitors to the exhibition (everyone who went into the castle, steampunk or not) were able to vote for their favourite item, and they chose this, James Richardson-Brown's K-1909. His previous steampunk K9, which has even been borrowed by the BBC, got taken away last week for an exhibition at the British Library so he spent three days and nights with very little sleep making a slightly later model for Waltz on the Wye. The glove, 'The Hand of Asclepius', is also his, and stems from his speculation about what the researchers at Miskatonic University really got up to.

8 comments :

  1. I'm glad you like the Goblin King, did you see our contact juggler (and rope walker) too?

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  2. I did! We got some super photos of him.

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  3. Wow, these all look fantastic. I'm quite tempted to go along to the next one now, it all looks so interesting and fun x

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  4. Puffer fish lamp looks fab.

    Will Mr Robot be putting photos of the event up on his SmugMug account? If not, could you keep poking him with a stick until he does as I'd love to see larger images of these amaze contraptions.

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  5. Kai, you can see all Pete's photos on his photo stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/62868462@N08/

    (He likes me calling him Mr Robot, dunno why.)

    Penny, it was fantastic fun. I think some steampunk events are more purist, just as some vintage events can be quite purist, but this one was great for n00bs.

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  6. Page two of stream. Bottom (bottom being the operative word) right. Gasp!!

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  7. Check out the whole WaltzontheWye photo stream (not just Pete's) - someone got photos of burlesque artist Lily Belle. Saucy!

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